Pep Guardiola Left Clinging To Home Comforts To Try And Avoid Huge Disappointment


Should Bayern Munich’s 2014-15 Champions League break down at the Allianz tonight, it will be hard not to think the engine went on the road.

The performance against Porto was particularly listless, but that is far from the first time a Pep Guardiola side have looked like that away from home in a European knock-out tie.

It has been the one curiosity of the Catalan’s career, other than perhaps the fact he has not yet retained the Champions League or won a third European trophy, but then that is all connected.

Guardiola’s sides so often look as if they’re holding something back in away legs, and it often means they have a lot to do in the home leg.

FC Porto v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg : News Photo

The quality of his teams tends to mean they’re seeded for those games, ensuring they are more often away in the first leg, but that very quality also makes it all the more galling that they don’t apply it in the exhilarating way that might be anticipated.

Here, Bayern had seemed so lucky to draw one of the quarter-finals’ more unfashionable team in Porto, but there was absolutely no bad luck about the defeat. The Portuguese champions were the better team in every department, exposing Bayern’s defensive line superbly, while also showing the Germans the intensity they should have had in an oddly meek attack.

Porto’s ultimate 3-1 win was the fifth time out of 17 that Guardiola has endured defeat on the road in the knock-outs, and he has only gone through from such situations once: the 2010-11 second round against Arsenal, after they had been beaten 2-1. 

In the correct context, the record isn’t actually all that bad. Guardiola also has four wins and eight draws from those 17 games and if you were take them on the points awarded for league matches, he would have an average of 1.17 points. Arsene Wenger’s average is 1, Jose Mourinho’s is 1.14, Carlo Ancelotti’s is 1.4 and Alex Ferguson’s is 1.48 so there isn’t that much of a difference. Obviously, these records trump a lot of other managers, so Guardiola’s is actually respectable.

Barcelona's coach Pep Guardiola (R) welc : News Photo

The real difference is down to what he should be capable of making of the brilliant squads at his disposal. He is one of the most innovative and best managers in the world having now been in charge of two super-clubs, but they only rarely offer their best performances in such games.

It is as if Guardiola is only trying to assert a control of the leg that actually ends up costing them, particularly when it suddenly switches the initiative. Rather than using his awesome attacking nous to claim the away goals that could put them out of sight, the Catalan can sometimes leave his team open to precisely that problem at his home ground.

It is an odd inversion that has often left Guardiola’s teams in shakier positions than they should be. Even when Barcelona were at their best, they came within a few wayward shots of going out to Arsenal in 2011.

In most cases, of course, they turned it on with some magnificent performances to claim the ties but it remains to be seen whether that can happen here. Much of the language has been very similar to the discussion ahead of Barca’s second-leg against Inter in 2010, which is the only other time Guardiola has had to overcome a two-goal deficit.

Of course, there were mitigating circumstances to that elimination, as there were to this defeat, with so many injuries to key players such as Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery - and so much fuss about the resignation of the medical staff.

That only deepens the challenge beyond the two-goal deficit.

FBL-EUR-C1-PORTO-BAYERN : News Photo

Bayern will have to keep Porto at bay but may have to try it without many of the players that will further push the Portuguese back, all without the likes of Medhi Benatia to cut out any potentially fatal counter-attacks.

Can Guardiola get the balance right?

It is a huge ask, but also has huge dimensions.

There are no two ways about it. If Bayern were to go out at the quarter-final stage, against a club they are obviously superior, it would arguably represent the greatest failure of Guardiola’s career so far.

Not only would he fail to reach the semi-finals for the first time in his career, but it would be from a situation where he had seemed in such a position of superiority, and where everything at the club was geared to this.

That new failing would come out of an old problem, unless Guardiola finds his old powers of recovery.

Either way, a show will be in store.

 

Read more from Miguel Delaney